Warrant recalled, judiciary reviewing policies after man responds in Hawaiian instead of English

Maui Now

UPDATE: On Thursday, Maui District Court Judge Blaine Kobayashi issued an order recalling the bench warrant in State v. Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo, case number 2DCW-17-0002038. Kaeo is no longer subject to arrest, and a hearing has been scheduled regarding the use of a Hawaiian language interpreter.

On Friday, the Judiciary announced they established a Hawaiian Language Interpreter Policy (full text at the bottom of this story).

If you are interested in serving as a court interpreter, you can contact the Office on Equality and Access to the Courts at (808) 539-4860 for further information. Basic orientation workshops for court interpreters of all languages are scheduled across the State, and the deadline to register for them is January 31, 2018.

The Judiciary will provide or permit qualified Hawaiian language interpreters to the extent reasonably possible when parties in courtroom proceedings choose to express themselves through the Hawaiian language.


There was outrage in a Maui courtroom Wednesday after a judge ordered that a man be arrested for answering in Hawaiian instead of English.

Samuel Kaeo is an associate professor of Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawaii Maui College, and can speak both English and Hawaiian.

He was arrested in connection with a protest last year on Haleakala and was supposed to have a bench trial.

According to court records, Kaeo requested a Hawaiian language interpreter, but one was not available. Then at a hearing last month, the court granted the state’s motion to have the trial conducted in English.

On Wednesday, Kaeo refused to answer any questions in English and spoke only Hawaiian.

“I’m going to give you another opportunity, Mr. Kaeo, to just identify yourself just so the record is clear. I’m going to ask you one last time, is your name Samuel Kaeo?” asked Judge Blaine Kobayashi.

Kaeo’s Hawaiian responses led Kobayashi to say, “The court is unable to get a definitive determination for the record that the defendant seated in court is Mr. Samuel Kaeo.”

Kobayashi ultimately issued a bench warrant for Kaeo’s arrest.

“Obviously it had nothing to do with he couldn’t recognize me. I mean, not much guys bolo head with tattoos on their face,” Kaeo said outside the courtroom. “You see what the issue was, it wasn’t about me. It was the fact that I was speaking Hawaiian that he never liked, sadly, but these small obstacles are the kind of things we overcome as a people.

“We have to put this in context. As a Hawaii person representing myself on a criminal issue due to fighting on behalf of the rights of Hawaiian people and using Hawaiian language is the best way to express that this is a Hawaiian issue and that being taken away for me,” he told KHON2. “I will continue to demand through my words that I’ll be recognized as a human being. That we as Hawaiians have a right for the human right to speak our language.”

A spokesperson for the Hawaii State Judiciary said Kaeo is not being singled out, and offered the following statement: “There is no legal requirement to provide Hawaiian language interpreters to court participants who speak English but prefer to speak in Hawaiian. In those cases, judges have the discretion to grant, or deny, a request for an interpreter.”

Kaeo says he plans to turn himself into authorities, and will continue to speak Hawaiian in future court hearings.

In 1995, the Hawaii Supreme Court outlined the standards for determining the need for a court interpreter:

“(A) When an interpreter is needed. An interpreter is needed if, upon examination by the court, (1) a party or witness is unable to speak English so as to be understood directly by counsel, court, and jury, or (2) if a party is unable to hear, understand, speak and/or use English sufficiently to comprehend the proceedings and to assist counsel in the conduct of the case. One interpreter should interpret witness testimony for the court. Additional, separate interpreters may be needed for each non-English speaking party.

(B) When an Examination is Required. If it appears that a party’s or witness’ primary language is not English or that a party or witness may not hear, understand, speak and/or use English well enough to participate fully in the proceedings, the court, with or without a motion, should conduct an examination on the record to determine whether a court interpreter is needed. After the examination, the court should state its conclusion on the record. If the court concludes an interpreter is needed, the case file should be clearly marked to ensure that an interpreter will be present when needed in any subsequent proceeding.”

Video provided by Wendy Osher of Maui Now.


Judiciary Announces Hawaiian Language Interpreter Policy

HONOLULU – The Judiciary today announced the following policy regarding Hawaiian language interpreters during courtroom proceedings:

The Judiciary will provide or permit qualified Hawaiian language interpreters to the extent reasonably possible when parties in courtroom proceedings choose to express themselves through the Hawaiian language.

The Judiciary will develop implementation procedures for this policy, and welcomes input from the community. Comments may be sent to pao@courts.hawaii.gov. Individuals who are interested in serving as a court interpreter should contact the Office on Equality and Access to the Courts at (808) 539-4860 for further information. Basic orientation workshops for court interpreters of all languages are scheduled across the State on the following dates and locations:

  • Oahu: Feb. 24-25 or March 24-25 at the Supreme Court Building in downtown Honolulu
  • Kauai: Feb. 13-14 at the Kauai Courthouse in Lihue
  • Maui: Feb. 28-March 1 at the Maui Driver Education Office in the Main Street Promenade Building
  • Hawaii Island (Kona): March 6-7 at the Kona Driver Education Office in the Kealakekua Business Plaza
  • Hawaii Island (Hilo): March 15-16 at the Hilo Courthouse

The deadline to register is January 31, 2018.

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